The Troika

Stepan Chapman, Author Ministry of Whimsy Press $14.99 (250p) ISBN 978-1-890464-02-8
A jeep, a brontosaur and an old Mexican woman tramp across a desert under three blazing suns. Above them, unseen, quarrelsome angels are trying to cure them of their delusions. The travelers speak, think and dream to one another. They are father, mother and daughter, but who inhabits which body is, like everything else in this very odd book, subject to change. Chapman's first novel (chapters of which have appeared in The Chicago Review, Zyzzyva and other publications) abounds with savage imagery reminiscent of William S. Burroughs, and, sentence for sentence, the writing is brilliant, lucid and poetic. Any small part, read by itself, is as startling and satisfying as a painting by Dali, Magritte or Klee, whose compositions it resembles. Taken together, however, the parts form an ill-conceived, self-indulgent assemblage. Image piles on image, fabulation on fabulation, endless limbs with no discernible body. There are interesting postmodern devices--violations of conventional narrative form; fluid rather than fixed identities; blurred boundaries between truth and falsity, reality and dream, text and referent. But Chapman fails to establish a ground solid enough to explode, offering a plethora of symbols but little meaning. The themes are clear: the main characters are self-destructive, trading flesh for machinery; they are riddled with self-doubt and a horrible feeling of alienation; their life as a family is pathologically, sometimes homicidally, dysfunctional. All this might make a great cult movie, like Eraserhead; as a novel, it simply does not work. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/29/1997
Release date: 10/01/1997
Genre: Fiction
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